FIA-STARSA and Hoppe revisit college's sexual harassment policy

By Matt Day

The mood was tense in the lecture hall on the ground floor of Carnegie Hall. Dean of Students Jim Hoppe, invited by Feminists in Action-Students Together Against Rape and Sexual Assault to discuss Macalester’s sexual assault policies, sat alone on a table in front of more than 50 students in attendance at the Tuesday evening event. As Hoppe explained the procedures of the Macalester College Harassment Committee, the questions he fielded began to express more and more frustration with what students said were failures of the administration to advertise and implement a policy adequately supportive of victims.

Anna Min ’09 broke the tension almost an hour after the evening began with an appeal to Hoppe and the administration.

Min said students on campus brag about avoiding punishment for sexual assault and asked that Hoppe concentrate on prevention by advertising consequences that the college will enforce.

“I hope you lay it out, and say ‘we’ll kick your ass,'” Min said. The crowd, silent throughout the event, laughed, one of the only light moments in an evening full of serious conversation.

FIA-STARSA, a student-led organization, has been in talks with Hoppe about the sexual assault procedures for more than a month. The forum was designed to raise campus awareness of the policy to encourage a broader discussion.

FIA-STARSA co-chair Becca Holohan ’10 expressed a concern shared by many at the meeting in her remarks in introducing Hoppe.

“We want to feel safe on our campus,” she said. “We want the college to be more concerned with our mental health than with the college’s PR.”

As Dean of Students, Hoppe has the chief role in dealing with issues of harassment and sexual assault on campus. He spent 45 minutes detailing the procedural role of the Macalester College Harassment Committee.

The MCHC, comprised of Hoppe, Abraham Noel of Human Resources, French Professor Joell Vitiello and Psychology professor Brooke Lea, receives and investigates complaints from students.

Hoppe said that to determine if harassment has occurred, three members of the MCHC investigate the complaint. If it meets the definition of harassment, the committee will recommend mediation, formal action, or no action.

Students retain the option to proceed with criminal action with the support of the college or to appeal a finding of the MCHC.

Mediation was the subject of several questions. Students were critical of the principle that a perpetrator and victim of assault would be expected to reach a mutual agreement.

Hoppe defended the procedure, citing a study by the William Mitchell College of Law that recommended mediation in such cases.

Mediation, Hoppe said, is both the most frequent route students choose and the method recommended by the college. Hoppe is the most commonly requested mediator.

Hoppe also emphasized that the college isn’t trying to hide the details of the harassment procedures.

“I feel bad that the perception is out there that there is a lot of information out there, and we’re hording it,” he said. “There’s nobody that has a vested interest in keeping [the policy] a secret.”

Students and Hoppe agreed that the most pressing problem was awareness of the policy and ways to get help if assaulted.

“It would be great for there to be student pressure to make this a big deal,” Hoppe said, noting that the question and answer session was a first step. “This is the greatest attendance we’ve ever had.”

” I think the forum was definitely a positive step in making the campus community aware of Mac’s policy and starting a larger conversation about the issue of sexual assault and rape,” Holohan said. “Ultimately, this is a question of our values as a community, and it’s not just about administrative policy. It’s about developing a campus atmosphere of respect.